Women differ from men … obviously.
But they've gotten short shrift in medical research.
Only recently has it become clear that the symptoms of heart disease – even its physical details – vary by gender.
These differences, and lack of awareness, are the prime motivation for The American Heart Association's annual Go Red for Women
campaign, which occurs every February.
As well as genetics and activity levels, diet plays a major role in heart disease, and studies point to foods that may help reduce women's risk:
Do vitamins help deter heart disease?
Government research shows that most Americans don't get the recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals.
Accordingly, many physicians advise their patients to take multivitamins to ensure they're getting the nutrients they need.
The available evidence suggests that daily multivitamin-mineral (MVM) supplements do no harm and may deliver modest benefits.
Based on the evidence available eight years ago, an NIH State-of-the-Science Conference came to this conclusion: “… the present evidence is insufficient to recommend either for or against the use of MVMs by the American public to prevent chronic disease.” (NIH 2006)
A more recent evidence review adopted a somewhat more positive view:
“Based upon the available scientific evidence to date, supplementation with MVMs does not appear to increase all-cause mortality, cancer incidence or mortality, or CVD incidence or mortality and may provide a modest protective benefit.” (Macpherson H et al. 2013)
Unfortunately, clinical trials – the “gold standard” of medical research – testing the long-term health effects MVMs are scarce.
Most of the available evidence comes from epidemiological studies, which can't prove a cause-effect link between supplements and health.
Epidemiological researchers try to account for the fact that vitamin users tend to have healthier lifestyles, but it muddies the waters.
Still, when you see enough well-designed epidemiological studies that point in one direction, it matters.
Adding weight to the positive side of the scales, a new study links daily multivitamin use by women to a big drop in their risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
NIH study links multivitamins to a one-third drop in women's risk of heart-related death
The new epidemiological study comes from the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) within the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The study's authors analyzed data from 8,678 men and women aged 40 or older who participated in the U.S. government's NHANES III diet-health survey between 1988 and 1994 (Bailey RL et al. 2015).
(They excluded pregnant or nursing women and people with a history of cardiovascular disease or chronic kidney disease.)
When the NIH team compared the survey participants' supplement use to their health status, the results linked women's use of multivitamin-mineral supplements for three years or more to a 44% drop in the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, compared with non-users.
But no such link was seen among men.
The positive indications for women echo the findings of a large Swedish study, which found a reduced risk of heart attack among women who took MVM supplements for more than five years (Rautiainen S et al. 2010).
By itself, a daily multivitamin-mineral supplement will not prevent heart disease … but it may help reduce the risk.
Eat whole foods
Research suggests that the Mediterranean diet and other traditional diets are best for heart health.
Conversely, the standard American diet lacks fresh, whole foods and instead is full of processed/refined food products, white flour, added sugars, and high-omega-6 vegetable oils* (corn, soy, safflower, sunflower, cottonseed).
Traditional Western diets feature the following foods (Asian ones favor soy foods like tofu, miso, and tempeh over dairy):
- Colorful** fruits, vegetables, and beans
- Whole nuts**
- Herbs and spices**
- Meat and poultry raised on pasture or wild forage
- Whole dairy (eggs and cultured/fermented milk products)
- Extra virgin olive oil**
- Whole grains**
**Foods very rich in fiber and/or antioxidants
- Bailey RL, Fakhouri TH, Park Y, et al. Multivitamin-Mineral Use Is Associated with Reduced Risk of Cardiovascular Disease Mortality among Women in the United States. J. Nutr. 2015. Published online January 7, 2015.
- Bailey RL, Gahche JJ, Lentino CV, Dwyer JT, Engel JS, Thomas PR, Betz JM, Sempos CT, Picciano MF. Dietary supplement use in the United States, 2003-2006. J Nutr. 2011 Feb;141(2):261-6. doi: 10.3945/jn.110.133025. Epub 2010 Dec 22.
- Bailey RL, Gahche JJ, Miller PE, Thomas PR, Dwyer JT. Why US adults use dietary supplements. JAMA Intern Med. 2013 Mar 11;173(5):355-61. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.2299.
- Berner LA, Keast DR, Bailey RL, Dwyer JT. Fortified foods are major contributors to nutrient intakes in diets of US children and adolescents. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2014;114:1009-1022.
- Fulgoni VL, Keast DR, Bailey RL, Dwyer J. Foods, fortificants, and supplements: Where do Americans get their nutrients? J Nutr. 2011;141:1847-1854.
- Gaziano JM, Sesso HD, Christen WG, et al. Multivitamins in the prevention of cancer in men: the Physicians' Health Study II randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2012;308:1871-1880.
- Macpherson H, Pipingas A, Pase MP. Multivitamin-multimineral supplementation and mortality: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Feb;97(2):437-44. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.049304. Epub 2012 Dec 19. Review.
- [No authors listed]. NIH State-of-the-Science Conference Statement on Multivitamin/Mineral Supplements and Chronic Disease Prevention. NIH Consens State Sci Statements. 2006 May 15-17;23(2):1-30.
- Rautiainen S, Akesson A, Levitan EB, et al. Multivitamin use and the risk of myocardial infarction: a population-based cohort of Swedish women. Am J Clin Nutr 2010;92:1251–1256.